Besides tongue-tingling taste, there are also powerful health benefits packed into rosy-red cranberries. Like other berries, cranberries are loaded with antioxidants because of the high skin-to-fruit ratio; it’s no wonder they rank sixth on the USDA’s top 20 list of high-antioxidant foods. And there’s even better news: Cranberries’ powerful proanthocyanidin antioxidants may play a role in the prevention of heart disease and some types of cancers. Add to that, the health benefits of high-antioxidant foods like cranberries also include the prevention of age-related loss of coordination and memory. And betcha didn’t know cranberries are a great source of Vitamin C, too!
Sugar Coating the Health Benefits of Cranberries
But here’s the bad news: Unlike other berries, cranberries are too mouth-puckering to simply eat out of hand, which makes it all too easy to turn an inherently healthy food into a sugary jumble. And, of course, when it comes to cranberries, most people think of them in canned, jellied form. But think outside of the can: There are many tasty and lower sugar ways to enjoy the health benefits of cranberries.
Craving Cranberries? No Can Opener Required
Mix Them In
Chopped, fresh cranberries add a tart punch to whatever you’re baking that already carries a bit of sweetness. Making pumpkin bread? Try tossing in half a cup of chopped cranberries. Even run-of-the mill carrot muffins taste fresher with a handful of chopped cranberries mixed in the batter.
Like Them Hot
Already bored with the limited selection of cooler weather fruit? Jazz up your produce with the tasty health benefits of cranberries. Mix two chopped (unpeeled) apples or pears with two cups of whole, fresh cranberries and half a cup of sugar. Bake at 350 degrees until all fruit is tender – about 50 minutes. Serve this up as a slightly sweet dinnertime side or breakfast treat. Leftovers can add pizzazz to a bowl of plain oatmeal.
Relish the Flavor
Fresh cranberry relish is so easy and delicious, you’ll wonder why you ever bought the jellied blob. Chop 1½ cups of fresh cranberries with one sectioned orange, a teaspoon of orange zest and a quarter cup of sugar in a food processor until it reaches a saucy but still slightly chunky consistency. If you like, add fresh orange juice to bump up the sweetness and thin. The relish is great with turkey, of course – but even better on top of fish like salmon or tuna. (Or mmm! How about a seasonal fish taco with cranberry relish?) Leftover relish paired with a bit of whole grain cereal makes a refreshing mix-in for vanilla yogurt.
Put Them on the Side
Go festive with your salsa, and toss into your food processor a 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries, half a cup of diced sweet onion, a seeded jalapeno, the juice of one large orange, half a cup of sugar, and a quarter cup of chopped cilantro (omit if you’re not a fan). Pulse until the salsa reaches the texture of your liking, and salt lightly to taste. Or, for autumn-worthy coleslaw, mix a bag of pre-shredded cabbage with half a cup of chopped cranberries, one chopped, unpeeled Asian pear, and just enough apple cider vinegar to moisten, adding a couple tablespoons of brown sugar if desired. For a finishing flair, garnish your coleslaw with a tablespoon of toasted almonds and a sprinkle of blue cheese.
Enjoy the Dried and True
An easy way to enjoy sweet cranberry flavor in a handy pantry staple is to use the easy-to-find dried version. Use them as you would raisins – such as tossed into green salads or added to a trail mix made of whole grain cereal, pistachios, and cranberries. Dried cranberries are also a great way to add color and sweetness to veggies sautéed in olive oil – just add a tablespoon or two in the last few minutes of cooking when you’re making carrots or green beans.
Make a Splash
Add a little interest to your water without investing a lot of calories by filling your glass with ice cold sparkling water and topping it with a splash of cranberry juice made from 100% juice.
The Bottom Line
Cranberries can be so much tastier than a smear of cloyingly sweet sauce on turkey. To get the health benefits of cranberries, and enjoy the seasonal flavor, give a few of these recipe ideas a spin.
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.